Skip to main content

Writing Standard Operating Procedures

Standard Operating Procedures, or SOPs, are a staple in the manufacturing world. It’s not just factories either; pretty much everywhere you go there are formal instructions available. SOPs are a way to communicate the best way to perform a task. Having a single optimum instruction can improve the quality of products and services as well as reduce cost and time. You may therefore think that SOPs are embraced by most businesses. From my experience however it appears that they are left to languish. This does not need to be the case, and by using teams of two to write and maintain SOPs you can realise greater benefits from your instructions.

Firstly, you need to consider who your team of two will be. Please make it someone who is going to use the instructions. Many businesses use one team to write the instructions and a different team to execute the instructions. In some cases this may because of the technical knowledge required to define the optimum sequence of the steps. Having someone in the background to verify the steps from a technical perspective can help negate this issue. The real power of engaging with the people who perform the tasks is exactly that – engaging. There are many benefits to helping your staff to engage more with the business, but defining the best way to perform their tasks is a great way to do it. If the people who perform the task write the SOP then there will be a better chance that the process is adhered to (providing it is technically correct of course).

Next, having two perspectives can bring with it greater insight. When you get one person to write the SOP you get one point of view. There may be a number of different ways to complete a task and the question then becomes ‘what is the best way?’ Of course if the SOP becomes a contentious issue it might be necessary to go back to the entire team with the various proposals for the best process, but it rarely gets this far in most cases. Having two people combine their skills and knowledge into one instructional document therefore can help you define the best possible sequence of steps. In your quest to develop processes that are as good as they can be this is a great opportunity.

Thirdly, when you have a small team (of two) writing your SOPs there is another opportunity with regards to day to day working. SOPs are great as long as they are being followed. When they sit on a shelf and aren’t being acted upon then their worth is minimal. People seem to have a natural tendency to adjust and deviate from the original process steps over time. Whether this is due to an increased workload and people are trying to find a shorter route, or whether there is a lack of understanding, deviation needs to be controlled. Making SOPs part of the working day is one of the ‘close out’ tasks of creating SOPs. The team you choose to write the SOPs need to be conscious of integrating SOPs with working life. Making them accessible and part of the day to day working (standard meetings, timetables etc...) is vital to make the instructions work.

Standard Operating Procedures can be wonderful tools or a burdensome admin task. Getting a team of two to inject reality and optimisation into your instructions can give them a boost. Helping your team to follow a single best way of working can bring tangible results to your business and should not be underestimated. Getting the instructions to become part of the day to day and not rot on a shelf (or hard drive) is paramount if you want results. Engaging with your team via this practical writing approach can make a real difference and I urge you to review the state of SOPs today.


Giles Johnston
Author of 'Visual SOPs', a practical guide to making SOPs support your business improvements.

Popular posts from this blog

Where there is a (performance) gap there is a concern

I had a really good day yesterday working with a client's team.

The team has issues. Plenty of issues. Some are managerial issues, some are people issues and some are production issues.

When I first met the team they didn't know what to do with their issues, so I started by helping them to see more issues.

Issues everywhere, they didn't seem very impressed.

And then we captured the issues as 'concerns' into the tried and tested 'concern cause countermeasure' format and followed the process:

Concerns probed for root causes and root causes converted into countermeasures.
Soon they realised that some of their root causes dealt with numerous concerns and they gained momentum.

Yesterday we pulled another one of their processes apart and identified all of the gaps. The gaps became concerns and we fed them back into the process. Now they have a practical action plan (of countermeasures) to upgrade the process in question.

What do you do with your performance gaps? …

Continuous Improvement and the Five Legged Race

Many improvement projects need the buy in of several people before they can progress. Amongst these people there will be some that have a firm view of what needs to happen and are keen to make progress. Some of the people won't be sure and they will need more time. Other people might not be that interested and have other priorities they want to focus on.

None of this is wrong.

It is an observation of mine and one that I see repeat on a regular basis with the businesses that I come into contact with.

But, if we take the principle from the observation we have an interesting improvement strategy (one that I personally use when I get stuck with my client's improvement projects).

You might have worked out the approach from the title of this blog post, but it is analogous to a three-legged race (or four, five, nine...). If someone in the group moves in the wrong direction and / or at the wrong speed then the whole group falls over.


In the example I gave at the start it is no differe…

Do you have time to prepare (in order to become super productive)?

I had a funny conversation a few weeks ago with a team that was complaining about one of their colleagues spending 'ages' preparing their workstation within their factory. I meet a lot of people that spend too long preparing (and effectively procrastinating) so I was intrigued by their comment. It turns out that this individual didn't spend too long but rather his colleagues dived into their work without thinking through what the best way to work was...

The slower to start gentleman did in fact prepare his work area. He was also able to produce a far greater amount of work in the same time period because he had invested in a smarter way of working than his counterparts. The time spent preparing his working area was valuable and not overdone.

This example reminds us of the importance of the second S in 5S (set in order) and how workstation design is critical if we want to maximise the productivity of our teams. Whether this is a physical work area in a factory, the filing s…